This week on Creating Communication, public speaking guru, Alex Rister discussed resistance to the 21st century approach to design. I too find that many professionals (teachers and business folk alike) resist the text-light, design-centered approach to the creation of visual aids. The biggest argument is often that “bullets have their place.” Another argument I hear is “well, your way is only one way to display information.” Well, the truth is, yes, bullets have their place–on a dense document that requires them to help break up copious amounts of information into smaller digestible chunks. And unfortunately for those stuck in the feedback loop of “1987-pick a template-throw a title on a slide-then fill each slide with more bullets than a gun store”, this is the best possible way to display information in a visual medium. I believe the resistance comes down to a very important point Alex makes in her article:
Presenters I consult with often say, “but I like MY slides” or “what’s wrong with MY slides?” The view that slides are for the presenter is exactly what’s wrong. An audience-centered presenter cares less about the efficiency of a template and more about how design elements like color, type, and layout communicate a specific vision for the audience and help set a tone for the audience’s interaction with and reception of a message. An audience-centered presenter cares less about the number of bullets on a slide and more about how to successfully assist an audience in retaining information.
The truth about text-heavy slides is that they hinder cognitive retention, not improve it. This stems from the way our brains work. John Medina, author of Brain Rules explains it best in his book, site, and video series:
Medina provides a good rule of thumb for presenters.
Simply adapting to this rule helps encourage your audience to pay attention to what you are saying, as opposed to reading ahead of you and tuning you out in the process.
Recently, I was tasked with developing a quick set of slides showcasing my department’s curriculum best practices. Note that I don’t completely eliminate text; instead, I work to make the text I use visually appealing and easier to process.
So, do you resist the notion that “bullets kill”? If so, check out the brief version of my much longer treatise on all things design, “SIMPLE Design,” below!